Jugaad - Mother of invention
By Etan Doronne
4 Dec 2012
Herds of army-green motorcyles, powerful and durable, were left abandoned in military military bases, It was 1947/8. In the days of post WWII few local folks in the ex-colonies could afford the luxury of feeding such guzzlers. What they did need were working wheels: Goods Carriers.
In both India and Israel, British drew a straight line on the map, named it a border and left. That triggered endless conflicts on those frontiers but also gave a green light for a long awaited development and expansion. The private sector, the people, had been heavily regulated for years by heavy taxes and bans on new construction of homes, neighborhoods, businesses etc. Along those years they have practiced and developed guerilla-type innovation, wisdom of the oppressed: reuse, improvise, maximize efficiency. This was the moment where these skills and talents could translate military trash to civil treasure.
India of today is where you can still easily find a farmer steering a 1st century A.D wooden wheel bullock cart while talking on his 21st century mobile phone. This unique blend of tradition and technology is the healthy bedding for grassroot makeshift inventors. Such are the makers of various Jugaad vehicles across India, then & now.
Maharashtra, where I first touched Indian soil was also where my eye first spotted a Jugaad à¤œà¥à¤—à¤¾à¤¡à¤¼ trike. I was quick with the camera as it passed by on a muddy dirt road loaded with sacks of goods and passengers sitting atop.
The next time was in Gujarat, where these vehicles are name Chakda. This time I could snap it parked. I even got a tutorial on how to start the engine as the amazed crowd that gathered measured the odd foreigner just as I did for the machine: a rope wrapped around a pulley and strong arms to unwind it at once. Just like old grass mowers.
The 'Meen Body Vandi' à®®à¯€à®©à¯ à®ªà¯‚à®Ÿà®¿ à®µà®£à¯à®Ÿà®¿, or 'Fish carrying vehicle'. A Tamil locally made (Desi), low-cost improvised conversion of tricycle/trike/three-wheeler (Jugaad). Containing parts from Indian used/salvaged motorcycles and scooters such as: Rajdoot, TVS XL, Bajaj Chetak (Indian made Vespa) and more.
One interesting innovation is the rear axle break which uses as salvaged belt-sander drum ( from a carpentry workshop retired machine) as the rotor and a slice of rubber from a used tire as the stator (braking pad).
In this photo it is used for well-water home-delivery, for a town with a load-sharing program that shuts the pipe supply on various neighborhoods during specific weekdays. One colorful bucketful is 4 Rupees, as of mid 2011.
The great bonus in Tamil Nadu, and maybe most India, that these vehicles don't need to get registered (they don't carry any license plates) and so they don't demand paying government taxes and fees nor being insured.
Israel. It was 1989, I had just released from 3 years in the Israeli army field corps and was ready for a new project.
In my parents backyard lay 7 NSU Prinz cars, lined up to be salvaged for parts in favor of the one running I had restored over 4 years of school breaks and later army weekend vacations. But it was no more running. About a year earlier I had blown it's 600cc twin cylinder last breath and ever since lay along the curbside.
The new project, I envisioned, will be a vehicle i can work on without breaking my back bending and digging under the hood. An open engine compartment. At the same time, not a motorcycle which I didn't trust to be safe in my hands or on Israeli so-so maintained roads and drivers behavior.
So through my long trained automotive scanning eyes I dug up that hybrid of motorcycle and light pickup truck. It was a vanishing breed at those days. Only two handful of elders were still waiting on corners or roaring the Jaffa-Tel Aviv neighborhoods with the pulsating puffs of WWII power plants.
The story goes like this: The British empire took over Israel, back then Palestine, after WWI and ran the land and it's people up until 1948. During WWII their army in this area was equipped with BSA 500cc motorcycles. Another country under their regime, India got the Royal Enfield 500cc. The technology was similar: a tubular iron frame with an upright long stroke 500cc mono cylinder. The chunky rpm of these vibrators could be counted easily by a naked ear, both in idle or cruising.
In 1948 the colony was left to it's own karma, after the UN resolution in favor of an independent Israel. Left behind were abandoned army bases with immense stocks of military machines and equipment, among them an estimated thousands of BSA's.
The country went into a fever of development which was long awaited. The Brits had previously practically banned any construction of new villages, towns or cities. However the country experienced a decade of depression during the 50's and every product on the market from food to gasoline was sold in limited quantities against government strictly issued stamps. The dream of riding a guzzling ex-military bike had to wait for a time.
The late 50's saw the expansion of middle class, govt. reduced restraint and a boost in construction. Along with that came a need for light pickup for apartment moving and light supplies delivery around the plateau of Tel Aviv and neighboring cities. The 500cc bike were just powerful enough and affordable power plants and quick workshops converted many into trikes of various types: some with tubular frame other with open profiles and a variety of rear axles, reverse/forward switch gearboxes, drive shafts and brake hydraulics - all reused from available old cars parts.
So, having no commanders or orders hanging over my head and shoulder anymore, I folded up my sleeves and got out roaming the native habitats of these trikes. For about a week I just walked the Alenby, Ha'Aliya, Ha'chashmal, Salame, Derech Yafo streets asking anyone that seemed somehow related if any of those is for sale. If I was especially lucky to catch up with a parked one while the drivers was around of course I asked them too. But soon it came clear that these old drivers and trikes destiny were wrapped together. They had no driving license for a 4 wheeler pick up or even car and their only way to maintain a livelihood in the business was keep driving this rattling oldsters. So the task toughened a notch up.
One day I was walking down a narrow sandy alley off Salame street in a neighborhood of makeshift houses when I discovered a tarp over a trike. I peeked inside to ask if it is for sale and the family told me the owner is a the coffee/Arak (liqueur) shop. I went there to find him along other elders sitting around on plastic stools playing cards or backgammon with small cups of Arak and cigarettes in front of the open doors to the smoggy traffic of the afternoon.
Quickly, a guy pulled me aside and said it would be difficult to get him to sell his Trike but if I would pretend to be the cousin of that guy he would be able to convince him for only 50 shekels in commissions. I felt something may be fishy but was more about making that sale come true by whatever means. So the play went on and to this day I don't know who the joke was on. The guy sat down with Marco (the Trike owner, a round belly unshaven man in his late 50's) and they went on negotiating with pauses to empty a shot every once in a awhile by Marco's request. The price was eventually set on 800 Shekels (somewhere around $300-$400 at the time). I don't even remember I cared about the mechanical condition. I bought it as is without knowing what 'is' is. I knew the creative platform and non-brand improvised vehicle registration would leave much room for any type and sort of restoration.
The next day Marco drove the new/old beast to it's new home, my parents'. It was 10 miles of theme park quality riding on the rickety contraption. The cracked chassis would twist first every time he hit the gas before the bike even started moving. Like the 'Tumbling Tower' game, crack any welding not mandatory as long as the the chassis doesn't completely collapse.
We parked it in the abandoned orange orchard behind the backyard and I gave Marco a lift back to his home and haven't seen him since. The trike however quickly changed positions onto the service pit me and my dad casted in cement a few years earlier. It took a bit of adjustment to drive it up. I had to manufacture 'manhole' covers to bridge the pit because this was a three-track vehicle compared with two of a car. Another acrobatic stint was needed since the ground clearance meant for a two wheeler was stretched to double the span in it's current configuration. The chassis, around where it cradles the engine, scraped the boards covering the pit at the point where the slope turns into leveled surface. For that I had to drive the trike to just before that point, where the front wheel had passed it and the engine cradle hadn't reached it yet, lock the trike in place, jump off and pull that board I custom made to fit the gap in between the two, jump back on and drive the bike all the way (the two rear wheels rode the cement ramp and didn't need the pit covered). For this stint I installed and hand break on the handlebars: it was a saw-toothed metal part anchored to the bar and a rocker mounted to the brake lever that I could push into a groove in the former after squeezing the brake to the max. Somewhat Flintstones-like (or Dr. Seuss) but with attention and good calibration it didn't fail.
I think it was 2 years till the bike stood in its new skin and bones. I trashed the old chassis from the bike and back, not before I had sketched it and put in all members lengths and angles I measured. I then took raw steel tubes I bought in a supplies yard, doubled them (inserted a smaller diameter pipe to run inside in wider pipe in a tight fit) and headed to an exhaust maker where we curved those doubled-wall a to match my sketch measurements. Then composed and leveled them all with touches of welding and supports then completed the all-around welding. I was only a 22 years old growing up with a a mechanical engineer father and after a couple of months in a welding course. The result was impressive considering the challenge but the small deviation from perfectly leveled jig left me forever driving the trike as you would balance a sailboat against strong winds: leaning back to weigh the steering to compensate the drifting off track.
Later I cut a washing-machine stainless drum in two, with an edge treatment and fittings those turned into two rear wheel fenders. The old Austin Marina axle (who knows how far back a model ?!) gave room to another I salvaged from an Israeli car, the Susita Rom Carmel in a public dump yard. In a kibbutz metal workshop, where my friend grew up, we narrowed the gap between the leaf spring mounting pads of that axle to fit the width of the trikes chassis.
Another piece of history was the rusty hydraulic brake pump. It was hard to find another that will couple to the bike chassis where the foot pedal is located, so I left it in place and only ordered a new pipe to run back to both the drum breaks on the new axle.
The electric system on the bike consisted of a 6 volt battery, a dim headlight and maybe a horn. There were no tail lights, a broken speedometer and no alternator, dynamo, no way to charge the battery. Since I removed the old truck bed the old battery compartment was gone. I uprooted an electric harness from one of the NSU Prinz cars, along with headlight, tail/signal/license-plate lights and custom fitted them all onto the trike.
Marco had told me that the bike was just overhauled recently at Victor, the BSA mechanic, so I left it all intact. a year and a few mile later I found the decreased compression of the bike came from a missing circlip on the piston rod, that allowed it to peek out and engrave the cylinder. That, plus a reunion with an ex-girlfriend who couldn't take the noise doomed it to become a garden gnome eventually.
But until then I managed to drive up the Carmel mountain (Rom Carmel, remeber?...), to the Technion university where I lived and studied. It created a such a jam that could easily get a mention in the daily traffic updates.
I also visited my 'Perach' (Flower, which is the name for the big brother program), Dudu in the town of Atlit. He was about 10 years old, the only son among 3 sisters and a prison guard dad that he rarely saw. I remember the riding in the trike bed across his hometown gave men-kind experience.
The last chapter in this tale happened not long ago, in a rural town of Tamil Nadu. I came across a bicycle shop, a dealership of BSA bicycles. The kind owner, Babu, just met me - a foreigner, unfamiliar guest and immediately send one of his young assemblers across the street. The guy came back with a brand new T Shirt which Babu gifted me. I told him in the little common language we had (limited English or Hindi on either side) the story of my BSA and later composed and gifted him a photo collage from his and my BSA's.
The future, we never know how and what it will bring, I just have an idea of composing an Indian trike, a Desi Jugaad, of a Royal Enfield diesel and an Autorickshaw then travel rural villages across India filming and screening village life of and to new local friends everywhere... Though I can't see myself being the one-man-magic-garage this time I definitely have will and drive to design, reuse, improvise and alter in the best of my skill and Indian Jugaad (assemblage) traditional talent. I put a wish out there that if this aligns and beneficial to others it would be supported with help from others and come to be.
More stories of unforgetable rural Indian villages and villagers on www.myindiaexperience.com
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